Wednesday, December 25, 2013

There you are

2013-12-24 Mike & Munson (1)
[photo c/- Gustav]

Merry Xmas to all readers of El Loco & El Lobo. 

2013 has been a year of dramatic ups and downs for the household, but we’ve just had a lovely day shared with family and friends, and look forward to many more such times into 2014.

All our best wishes for your present and future happy days from

Mike, Gustav and Munson.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Do not hurry the splendid journey

1998 Michael & Bondi in parkIt’s fifteen years today since a pocketful of hair and need grabbed me by the heart-strings and started nudging my life in unexpected directions. Three malamutes have shared that journey with me, beginning with Bondi in 1998 up to his passing in 2009.
1999 Michael&Bondi  2000 0621 (5)
Dougal, a full brother to Bondi from a later litter came along in 2001. The two accompanied me back to Australia in 2003 but difficult circumstances forced me to rehome Dougal in Adelaide with a new sister malamute in early 2004.
2001 Dougal @ 8mths 2002 Snoqualmie Pass - Dougal and Bondi
Munson, loyal companion since mid 2008 is the smallest of them (yet most vocal – I’m never sure whether he’s extemporizing or has a prepared speech for every public occasion), and born in Australia rather than Washington state. Nonetheless all three have spent time on at least two continents, meaning I’ve shelled out rather heavily on six intercontinental flights in the space of ten years. 
2003 Roche Harbor Marina - Dougal and Bondi 20040510 10 Swansea Tasmania - Bondi on pier
Someone asked me the other day what it said about me in owning such large dogs.  While I didn’t anticipate Bondi reaching his ultimate size, in retrospect I feel it makes for a more equal relationship between man and beast. That relationship has nothing to do with the relative size of other dogs or even of other humans for that matter. Even when a malamute is wearing a big dopey grin, it still enters a room with at least the presence of a human.  After I pointed out to someone that Bondi was nowhere near the size of an average Great Dane or the weight of a mastiff, they said “but they’re not proper dogs”. I don’t think they meant to disparage such breeds so much as point up the recognition of the ancestral dog type which a malamute typifies.

In any case, I’m quite a big guy and it’s handy not to have to bend down to give my dog a scritch behind the ears – and I’m still not beyond throwing a malamute onto my lap or over my shoulder for a ladder climb. Malamutes make lousy guard dogs, but their powerful presence is a useful deterrent to those who might wish harm. 

There’s a lovely capsule summary of malamutes by Maria Czerwinska on a Polish site

It is characterized by big strength, endurance, and an interesting disposition. It is a very friendly dog, a good and faithful companion. It does not belong to just one man, everybody can provoke it to play. It is very useful to work and play with a disabled child or an adult person. It can serve as a pulling force of a wheelchair and as a soft toy (a confessor) for long lonely hours in the world inaccessible for others.
2005 Bondi on La Concha, San Sebastian, Spain 2006 Bondi checks out Munson's Cafe
A related question is “why does your dog look so much like a wolf?” I turn that around and point out that malamutes and huskies are pretty close to what the original dogs looked like; the appearance of most other breeds having been radically altered by humans selecting traits for work or aesthetic preferences. Malamutes have a wild, atavistic majesty that I find extraordinary yet I wouldn’t want a wolf precisely because a wolf wouldn’t want me – it’s a creature of the wild, of wolf society alone, rather than a companion shaped by thousands of years of sharing homes, hearths and hearts with humans.

2007 Bondi at Dubrovnik BeachOverlaid on what is essentially dog, and what is quintessentially malamute, each of the boys has their own quite distinct personality. By ensuring they are widely socialised from their early months, I’ve been tapping into their potential to be complete citizens of both human and canine worlds. Sharing that potential, personality and extraordinary beauty with other people is more often than not a complete joy for all involved. In Australia where the commonality of dog ownership is balanced by vexatious restrictions on where they can go in public, my moots can be ambassadors for other happy, healthy urban dogs for the day where they can walk through city plazas or get on a train as easily as in London or Berlin. 
2008 Munson & Bondi on Enmore Road 2009 Bondi & Munson at Luna Park
For this post I’ve picked out a picture from each of the last fifteen years not just for the spectacular places that I’ve visited with each of them, but to also show some of the more personal moments and their own canine companions. The six and a half years of El Loco & El Lobo represents less than half that time. I wish I had more pictures of the special moments from earlier days: the endless loops of Green Lake, exploration of greater Seattle, then Puget Sound and even a corner of British Columbia. After that, the return to Australia, travel around Tasmania and more.

2010 Munson & Scout 2011 Munson & Legend 
This journey has been a very rewarding part of my life, at least as defining as anything I’ve accomplished in the time before. Claudia Hammond, author of Time Warped makes the point that the illusion of time speeding up as we get older is perhaps because we reduce the amount of novelty and identity-generating activities in our lives with recurring patterns of life and work. Allowing the dogs more space in my life has given me permission to explore a broader range of experiences, to continue to lay down extraordinary new memories which I will vividly recall as anything from my teens and twenties. One doesn’t have to look for adrenalin-pumping moments or seek out new stimulants to create special moments or step outside of the insistent current of progress; the euphoria of extreme dog-walking will do: pick up a leash, offer it to your young companion and find a new street or park, a new bench or country.

Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way*
2012 Munson & Gustav 2013 Munson @ Tour Eiffel
* Ithaka by C.P.Cavafy

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Transports of delight

Munson (12 weeks, 5.5 yrs)
In my last post, I eulogised the car that carried me and Bondi around Europe, usually off-camera from the bottom of Tasmania to the top of Norway.  I included a picture of Munson aged about 12 weeks sitting in the passenger seat (above left). As it happens I bought a low-km used Scenic back in June which is a close double to the original (sans sun-roof, and a different colour). Today as we reached the park for his daily frolic, Munson jumped into the passenger seat again, giving me the chance to photograph him again (above right) in approximately the same position.

An hour or so later we walked back towards the cars with two friends and their dogs. Will reached his car first and opened the door. Munson jumped in and made another passenger seat his home.

Will and Munson

Monday, November 11, 2013

Remembering the Scenic

Inari, Finland 2007In July 2003, newly returned to Sydney from five years living in Seattle, I was looking for a car that could handle two big malamutes – Bondi and his younger brother Dougal, at that time undergoing quarantine together.
Mt Etna, Sicily I didn’t want to buy a big 4WD, and was looking for a respectable hatchback or wagon that allowed the two dogs to stand up. Most vehicles, even with seats lowered, were simply not tall enough inside, or worse, were covered with felt-like interior cloth that would have turned the vehicle into a velcro-lined hair bag.
Norway's Atlantic Highway - the one night we slept in the car  Windermere car ferry
Then I encountered the Renault Scenic, which was not only roomy, but the rear seats were individually removable, and allowed both dogs to comfortably stand, turn and lie down. Snapped off the Rick Damelian showroom on Parramatta Road, it first saw active duty collecting Bondi and Dougal from the quarantine station. I’d taken out the back seats and bought a large square of rubber sheeting to lay out across the back. That rubber sheet saw ten years’ duty – transferred to the Zafira for our three years in France.
Jonnie and Munson in Scenic  Munson in driver's seat
Fast-forward a couple of years: the car has taken us to Adelaide and back, on a five week tour of Tasmania, seen us around for a month in Melbourne. In May 2005 it’s shipped to the UK ahead of Bondi and me, and we collect it from Ipswich in mid July. For the next two and a half years, it sees us around Europe through dozens of countries, ferried back and forth across the Irish, Mediterranean, Baltic  and Norwegian seas. We circumnavigated Ireland, visited the Lofotens, Orkneys and Sicily, crossed fjords, drove up mounts Vesuvius and Etna, reached the northernmost point of Europe and so much more. In the UK alone, it saw an astounding mix of terrain between Land’s End and John o’ Groats.
Bondi meets Munson for the first time in the Scenic  Bondi's last trip to Sydney Park
During the time away it suffered two memorable insults – a farmer in Devon deformed the rear hatch, trying to move it out of his driveway with his tractor, and it had tyres slashed while in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
IMG_9816  kisses from Munson
In January 2008 it returned to Australia, full of my European baggage and souvenirs, ready to chauffeur Bondi through the final years of his life and Munson through the first of his. A series of transmission problems in 2010, too expensive to rectify saw it consigned to a corner of the garage of my friends Richard and Corinne, while Munson and I headed to France.

Richard was the best person to look after the car – as you can see from the bang-up job he did with my Pulsar fifteen years ago. (Thank you also Adrian for conspiring in this little matter.)

1998 Richard minding my Nissan PulsarIMG_9810  IMG_9799
This week it was time to clear room in that garage, and so with a heavy heart, our brave little Scenic was collected for the scrap yard. It was a very wet morning when it was hauled onto a flat-bed truck, and signed over to its second ever owner. A few minutes later on Windsor Road, I saw it ahead of me in traffic for a few seconds, and then the truck turned into a side-street and it was gone.  

Hauled away (1)  Hauled away (2)
The main memories I will take away are from the wheel, Bondi leaning over my shoulder, new sights and smells ahead.
2007-10-14 The Open Road - Skye to Fort William

Saturday, November 09, 2013

King of King Street

Crowds at Cafe Shenkin  Treats at the Platypus store waterbowl
As has been my habit for years – French rural diversions aside - I walk Munson in a five kilometre loop up Enmore Road and King Street Newtown, keeping to the shady side of the street on hot or wet days. It’s one of Sydney’s premier restaurant strips, legendarily with more Thai restaurants than any street outside of Bangkok.

While we were away it seems to have been taken over by frozen yoghurt outlets and Mexican restaurants, good news for those on diets of fro-yos and nachos. There has also been an explosion in the number of gelaterias, and the Thai restaurants now seem to alternate with Thai massage studios.

Such is the turnover in retail addresses that I feel compelled to scrutinise all the shop-fronts along our walk. This didn’t work so well when I first arrived as  my eye prescription had changed enough during the farm years that I saw COIN HAIRDRESSER and DENIAL CARE rather than Con: Hairdresser and Dental Care.
How do you remove a malamute from a gelateria?As we sat in the entrance of Cafe Shenkin, formerly The Old Fish Shop Cafe, Munson held audience with the passing world. Most entertaining was the four-year old boy with his dad: boy would pat Munson’s flank, Munson would “woo-oo” and boy would giggle. Rub, repeat until boy was staggering around laughing so hard that he could barely stand. Ten minutes later he returned for a second round of pat-woo-giggle until his father carried him off: “bye bye doggie”.

Everywhere I go I get a lot of stories, happy and sad about people’s relationships with dogs. A lot of recent ones have been quite sad – this day a man told me his daughter’s family lost two malamutes to the recent fires in the Blue Mountains when they had barely enough time to evacuate humans from the household. A few weeks ago, I encountered a guy on Alice Street who gave Munson a bit of a cuddle, then stood up, shook himself and said “you can’t own dogs, when they die they destroy you”, and walked off. Other stories of abandoned dogs are too disturbing for me to share. Munson may wear the dog-collar but I’m the one who hears confession on our walks.
The afternoon closed on a more positive note with a round of play at Sydney Park. Munson is entering the malamute life-phase which straddles ridiculous and noble. He’s mature enough to sit on a hillock, looming over and kissing his favourite human park friends, while occasionally giving himself over to squawking wrestles with both dogs and humans.
Lindy, 6mo husky   IMG_5372

Friday, November 08, 2013

Australian animal import changes

I just received a notification from the Department of Agriculture, Animal Import Operations ( formerly DAFF, formerly AQIS) :

New import conditions when applying for an import permit for your dog or cat come into effect from 2 December 2013. Under the new conditions the minimum post-arrival quarantine stay will be reduced from 30 days to 10 days. [my bold]

The applications will apply to animals entering the country after 3 February 2014.

Note that there are special arrangements for animals coming from New Zealand which are yet to be published, and that the period of 10 days is a minimum. The starting point and preparation duration of the animal pre-export are major factors in determining eligibility for that minimum stay.

The FAQ states under “What are the key differences between the old and the new import conditions?” that there is a new category system for approved countries that hints at a relaxation in the rule that your pet had to stay in one country for 6 months prior to export. Now it seems they are free to move between other equal status countries with respect to rabies-free status. I’ll try to find out more.

At the moment I can’t find anything on their website which states which countries are in which category now, aside from New Zealand as Category 1.

I would post some more helpful links but since most Australian departments change their name  with every new government, their website/email domain names change and are hopelessly broken for long periods due to poor site design. DAFF had not fixed the old AQIS references before changing to DOA (..ahem…) which further compounds the problem. It's very hard to keep up with official directives when they're buried on a website that can't make up its mind what department it belongs to.

Despite the department’s continuing struggles to clearly communicate its identity or policies, this is very good news!

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Partner visa

Partner Visa application

Sent off today’s mail: our joint application for Gustav’s partner visa: a compilation of forms, photographs and supporting statements from friends and family. We started putting it all together back in May, slowly gathering all the paperwork required, but unaware that prices had risen by thousands of dollars since we started planning our return to Australia last year. That was a painful shock to the wallet, but there was nothing we could do about that.

A chance conversation with an acquaintance indicated that we should register our relationship in NSW, which was something I didn’t even know was possible.  We paid an early morning trip to the registry office in mid-October to complete those formalities, a rather unromantic witnessing of signatures and payment of the $207 fee.

With the final statutory declarations and signatures on supporting statements, and then certified copies of everything made ( three trips to a Justice of the Peace ) , it’s all been sent off into the hands of the “Partner (Temporary) Processing Centre”.  The name sounds like an unnecessarily complicated way of avoiding “Temporary Partner Processing Centre” which would be very ominous.

The visa has two components: a temporary (820) phase of two years and then a permanent (801) visa is awarded should no obstacles arise. The processing time service standard for the temporary visa is 6 months for 75% of cases presented.

Fingers crossed for a quick and positive response!

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Star Paws: Wookiee and Ewok

Wookiee and Ewok (1)

Seated outside Don Campos cafe in Alexandria this morning with Munson and a flat white, a wee white dog has been left leashed to a cycle stand. It’s very friendly but pining for its master, lying with its head between its paws, making mewling noises.

I thought it would be would be better distracted with some friendly company, so brought Munson over to sit by it. Even if that weren’t enough company, everyone now stopped to say hello to both of them and take photos, with someone identifying them as wookiee and ewok.

The owner didn’t return during our time there, but at least we made the young ewok’s wait time a bit less fretful.

Wookiee and Ewok (2)

Friday, November 01, 2013

It’s cricket Jim, but not as we know it

IMG_5299Friday afternoons at Sydney Park have become a social cricket rabble for the regulars and their dogs. I retrieve balls on occasion, but I usually sit on the closest hillock and watch the madness unfold while I talk to one of the other non-players.

In truth I’m not a very cricket-y person; that and my non-beer-drinking are responsible for my expulsions from my native land every few years. The last time I recall playing a ‘proper’ game was when I was in about the fifth grade: everyone on the field pretty much had it in for me, but the bowler was armed. I was at bat, and the bowler was aiming at my head, some distance higher than the stumps. He only failed in making his target by my blocking the ball with my ungloved hand. My thumb swelled to about twice its normal size, and I was writing left-handed for two weeks. My desire to return to the pitch was dimmed forever.
IMG_5291 IMG_5292
Social cricket here is far less threatening. It’s essentially one batsman defending one set of wickets against a parade of bowlers, with a scattering of fielders, almost all holding a bottle of something in one hand. Between them wander small children and a great many dogs. Bowlers compete with the dogs for access to the tennis balls used in this game. You’re never sure if a dog that chases a ball is going to return with it from the out-field or run off with it for twenty minutes to show its friends.
IMG_5311 IMG_5312
Last Friday Gustav was invited to try his hand at bat, and quickly showed how his hockey skillz could be turned to sending almost every ball back to scurrying out-fielders, and today he’s returned to defend his reputation. Munson gets very excited that someone he knows is at bat, moving from spectator to spectacularly large obstacle on field, often simply standing in between bowler and batsman while balls rained down over his head. We’ve called Munson’s unusual fielding role “silly big dog” position, in reference to the fielding positions close to the batsman such as “silly mid on”.
Munson having a ball Munson congratulates his favourite batsman, Gustav

Friday, October 04, 2013

Meet the fleet

the dog that ate the Harbour Bridge  malamute-class cruiser approaches Garden Island naval dock
Sydney is hosting International Fleet Review to commemorate the centenary of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy's Fleet into the harbour. Naval vessels and tall ships from around the world are expected to crowd the harbour over the next week.

I’m not exactly sure how they calculate the dates for these events. With previous quarter-century reviews in 1936, 1961 and 1986, this one would seem to be two years late.  I very much remember the 75th review in 1986 when I was working in the AMP building at Circular Quay. My desk was by the window on the twenty-somethingth floor with the spectacular view in some way compensating for the horribly dull desk job I’d landed after university.  The harbour below me was crammed with grey vessels festooned with colourful pennants.

I’ve come down to Lady Macquarie’s Chair today with Munson to watch the procession of boats. When I arrive there are already hundreds of people perched around the headland. We stayed there for about an hour and a half, but saw nothing more than some small yachts, a pair of kayaks and the occasional ferry making its way to Manly. That meant that dozens of photographers with itchy shutter fingers turned their lenses on Munson, surely the largest arrival in the harbour so far that morning. After talking to some people down by the water’s edge, we move onto a shaded grassy slope and chat to a very nice couple. I turned at one point and saw eight photographers lined up down a stair on my right, all with lenses trained on Munson.

under the boardwalk Woolloomooloo Bay
drying off before the next swim
As we walked back to our car via Woolloomooloo Bay, I let Munson off for a quick swim on a short sandy stretch. He crossed underneath the boardwalk for his entry in the bay proper, a malamute-class cruiser heading out to meet the fleet, wherever that was.